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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Keri: Slump City: Why Does the 2014 MLB Season Suddenly Feel Like 1968?

The first culprit is rising strikeout totals, as hitters have been whiffing more often than ever over the past few seasons. Through this many games in 2006, batters were striking out 18.7 percent of the time while netting a .265 batting average. That first figure has soared to 23.3 percent in 2014, an all-time high for this point in the season.

In an attempt to figure out why hitters are striking out more than ever, Grantland contributor Ben Lindbergh hosted a panel discussion on Baseball Prospectus’s Effectively Wild podcast with Fox Sports writer Rob Neyer, Brooks Baseball and Baseball Prospectus contributor Harry Pavlidis, former major league pitcher Brian Bannister, and physics professor/baseball researcher Dr. Alan Nathan. Each of the panelists had a somewhat different theory. Pavlidis noted the introduction of PITCHf/x to umpires’ training programs in 2009, a move he says prompted umpires to start calling a larger and more standardized strike zone. Pavlidis found that 57 percent of the pitches that hitters take now get called as strikes, compared to 50 percent right before PITCHf/x supplanted QuesTec for umpire reviews.

Nathan noted that pitchers are throwing harder than ever. Teams are drafting and developing bigger and stronger pitchers, and the net effect has been faster average pitch speeds, including more fastballs touching triple digits. According to ESPN Stats & Info research, the average velocity for all pitch types this season is 87.3 mph, while the average pitcher’s maximum pitch velocity is 94.1 mph. Compare that to April 2011, when those averages were 86.7 and 93.7, respectively. While those differences might seem negligible, Nathan pointed out that batters only have a fraction of a second to react to pitches. That means hitters’ muscle memory has been conditioned toward a certain pitch speed over thousands of repetitions, and even the slightest change can throw off their timing.

Bannister noted that PED testing has hurt hitter performance and thus offensive results, though that topic’s a bit of a puzzler, since more stringent testing would presumably affect pitcher PED usage rates as well, and thus possibly deaden overall pitch speeds. Lindbergh suggested that one of the mantras of the analytical age — that high-strikeout pitchers are highly desirable, but high-strikeout hitters aren’t necessarily a problem — could be affecting personnel decisions. Neyer, meanwhile, subscribed to an all-of-the-above theory, claiming that the rise in strikeouts has been somewhat organic.

...Trends don’t last forever in baseball. It took just one generation for the Year of the Pitcher to evolve into one of the highest-offense eras in the sport’s history, a shift brought on by everything from rule changes like lowering the mound, to more offense-friendly ballparks, to bats with thinner handles, to juiced balls, to juiced ball players. One way or another, the batting average decline will likely stop as well.

It might take a while, though. Even if the rising strikeout rates are organic and thus subject to leveling off, teams have discovered run prevention gold with shifts. Clubs like the Astros will probably shift even more as long as doing so yields results, and teams that almost never shift, like the Rockies, will likely start once they’re forced to acknowledge how well the tack is working for the competition. There are ways to beat the shift, like shooting for the opposite field or bunting, but we’ve yet to reach the tipping point where a power hitter who sees a lot of shifts, like David Ortiz, decides to sacrifice home runs for singles. We might not even be close.

This season probably won’t produce another ’68 Yaz situation. But the 73-year streak without a .400 hitter looks pretty damn safe, too.

Thanks to Butch.

Repoz Posted: April 23, 2014 at 08:43 PM | 18 comment(s)
  Beats: history

Primer Dugout (and link of the day) 4-23-2014

[Keokuk, Iowa] Daily Gate City, April 23, 1914:

Chilly atmosphere that threatened to cut the bleacher attendance, was dished up today for the opening of the new Chicago Federal park, when the Kansas City Packers meet [sic] the Chifeds. Despite interference by the weather man, Owner Weeghman predicted a crowd of 20,000, the reserve seat section having been sold out three weeks ago. Corporation Counsel Sexton was to hurl the first ball.

Weeghman Park firsts:
First batter: Chet Chadbourne
First pitch in an actual game: Claude Hendrix
First home run: Art Wilson, solo shot off of Ben Harris
First world championship:

(I’m an Indians fan. I kid because I acutely feel your pain, Cubs fans.)


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Primer Dugout (and link of the day) 4-22-2014

Milwaukee Journal, April 22, 1914:

Most of Bill Steen’s tough luck has come since he rubbed a negro hunchback bootblack’s head, trying to get lucky.
...
Among ball players there’s a superstition that the scratching of the head of a [racial slur] hunch back will bring luck. Bill and Vean Gregg were believers in that “hunch” at Pensacola in 1913, so both hunted up a crippled bootblack and rubbed his kinky head.

Instead of acquiring luck nothing has come Bill’s way since but bad fortune…Bill wants to know what to do to take the jinx off.

Well, you could stop being creepy and mean. It might not solve the problem, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt.


Monday, April 21, 2014

Posnanski: The Royals: A history of power

BTW, the recent Schur/Poz draft of superheroes went (Schur first): Batman; Superman (Schur had the usual problems with him); Thor; Hulk; Dr. Manhattan (Poz had never heard of him or Watchmen); Wonder Woman; Aquaman (Schur blamed his kid, but good God); Spider-Man (finally); Professor X; Captain America

the Kansas City Royals single season home run record is 36, and Steve Balboni set it almost 30 years ago…

only seven team home run records survive from pre-1996. Six of the seven are impressive home run seasons set by impressive players… And then there is … the Balboni record, which at this point has to be considered one of the eight wonders of the baseball world…

From 1998 to 2007 — the Selig Power Hour Decade — 157 players hit 37-plus home runs. More than 15 per season. Obviously no Royals player was even on that list. But even more remarkably, in that absurd stretch when baseballs were flying out like planes in Atlanta, the Royals had TWO PLAYERS who hit even THIRTY homers: Dean Palmer hit 34 in 1998 and Jermaine Dye hit 33 in 2000.

Yes, that’s right. The Royals have not had a 30-home run hitter since 2000…

The Royals have six home runs all year. At this point, they’re just hoping to break Balboni’s record as a team.

And you have to wonder: Why can’t the Royals catch a break on this home run thing? Other teams catch breaks. Why couldn’t the Royals have drafted Ryan Howard in the fifth round or selected Edwin Encarnacion off waivers or stuck with Jose Bautista (they are one of many teams to have Baustista) or lucked into a Chris Davis or Carlos Pena season? Why?

The answer, I guess, is that there is no answer. They are the Royals. The Balboni abides. In time, the Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble, they’re only made of clay. But the Steve Balboni record of 36 home runs is here to stay.

The District Attorney Posted: April 21, 2014 at 11:19 AM | 86 comment(s)
  Beats: history, joe posnanski, royals, steve balboni

Deadspin: Here is a Chicken Playing Baseball

British Pathé, apparently seeking a permanent end to workplace productivity, recently uploaded an enormous amount of material, much of it previously unseen by the public, to Youtube.

Some 85,000 old newsreel clips have been posted to their Youtube channel. Feel free to use this space to posts your finds of any sports or poultry-related material.


Primer Dugout (and link of the day) 4-21-2014

Milwaukee Sentinel, April 21, 1914:

According to Charlie Barrett, [Yankees rookie Tom] Burr throws a natural curve on account of a bend in his right arm. This bend is not the result of a break, but is simply due to the fact that the young man’s arm chose to grow in a curve rather than in a straight line.

The drop, which most pitchers find difficulty in throwing, is easy for Burr. His team-mates have christened him ‘The man with the bowlegged arm.’

Burr never did pitch in the majors, though he made his one and only appearance in the big leagues as a center fielder 100 years ago today.

Burr quit pro baseball after 1914 and attended Williams College for a couple of years before enlisting in the army in 1917. A year later, 30 days before the end of The Great War, Burr was killed in a training accident in Cazaux, France. He was 24 years old.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

NY Times: Who Made That Relief Pitcher?

In April 1903, a writer for Sporting Life described what might have been a baseball first: “Manager McGraw has originated a new plan,” the paper said, referring to John McGraw, the successful skipper of the New York Giants. “He will use two pitchers in every game, one being in the points five innings and the other four. No manager but one who has originality and nerve would attempt any such innovation, but McGraw has both.”

The team soon abandoned this idea, wrote Peter Morris, author of “A Game of Inches: The Stories Behind the Innovations That Shaped Baseball.” But in the years that followed, McGraw did find a way to reorganize his roster. Some pitchers would be called upon to start games; others would specialize in finishing.

bobm Posted: April 20, 2014 at 11:27 AM | 3 comment(s)
  Beats: history, john mcgraw, relievers

Saturday, April 19, 2014

NYT: Sandomir: When Swastikas, on Caps, Meant Luck

In 2009, Lukas posted a link to a photograph estimated to be from around 1915 of Maranville wearing a cap with a swastika on it. A few months later, Tom Shieber, the senior curator of the Baseball Hall of Fame, analyzed the uniform and the ballpark’s background in the picture and concluded on his Baseball Researcher blog that the photograph was taken on April 14, 1914, opening day at Ebbets Field between the Braves and the Dodgers. The ballpark was in its second season as the home of the Dodgers.

Last Monday, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of that game, Shieber put his blog post on Facebook. A reader wondered if there had been any contemporaneous articles about the “lucky cap change that could confirm your theory.”

Shieber responded, “I’m still searching for a ‘smoking gun’ on this one.” Shieber said last week in an interview that every six months, he returned to unanswered questions on his blog.

Earlier this month, when the Brooklyn Public Library expanded its digital archive of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Shieber thought he might find his answer. But he came up empty.

Peter Morris, a baseball historian writing a book about what makes baseball the national pastime, quickly turned up what Shieber was missing. Morris had read the Facebook exchange and searched The Eagle through a different database. He discovered an account by an anonymous woman reporting for The Eagle’s Woman of To-day page.

Under the headline “Yesterday’s Ball Game As a Woman Saw It,” she wrote that the Braves had lost the game to the Dodgers, 8-2, “in spite of the luck-inviting-Swastika emblem in red that adorns the cap of each member of the Boston team.”

The cap did not produce much luck for the Braves early that season — hard as it may be to believe a century later that the swastika could have been used to summon good fortune for anyone.

The Braves lost the opening two games to Brooklyn and were in last place as late as July 18 with a 35-43 record.

But they staged a remarkable comeback to finish at 94-59 and swept the Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series.

Thanks to BH.

Repoz Posted: April 19, 2014 at 02:34 PM | 11 comment(s)
  Beats: history

Chase Utley is the hottest hitter in baseball and has a shot at .400

Wow! Who knew the dizzying vapors from Uncle Eddie Savitz’s apartment were still lingering around Philadelphia!

Utley isn’t the hitter the great Williams was — no one in history was — but Utley entered his 12th major league season as hot as Las Vegas in July. Even after the Phils’ 12-1 loss to the Rockies on April 18, Utley’s stats are amazing:

In 14 games, he leads the National League with a .429 average with 14 hits in 56 at-bats, seven doubles, three homers and 10 RBIs, a .484 on base percentage and a slugging average of .714 for an OPS of 1,198!

Even I don’t expect Utley to maintain that pace, but he is a lifetime .289 hitter with a lifetime OPS of .875, so he has proven that he is a fine hitter. In fact, his 162-game averages are even better:

105 runs, 174 hits,  37 doubles, 5 triples, 27 home runs, and 99 RBIs.

So the key to Utley’s .400 chances is his health. He missed great parts of the 2011 and 2012 season with knee problems, which seem to be a thing of the past. He’s trained and strengthened his lower body to the point where he can generate all kinds of power with that quick and short stroke. Utley will be 36 this December, so his ability to stay on the field and stay out of prolonged slumps will be important, but I feel Utley is the kind of hitter who can make a run at .400.

Of course, Utley will need help from the No.2 hitter, Jimmy Rollins, and the No. 4 hitter, Ryan Howard. If both have good years, it will make it less likely for the opposition to pitch around Utley, who hits in the No. 3 hole.

All three need productive batting averages for Utley to have a chance, but if the universe were to align just right, Utley could enter the season-ending series with the Braves at Citizens Bank Park with a chance to be the first player since 1941 to hit .400.

Repoz Posted: April 19, 2014 at 02:02 PM | 74 comment(s)
  Beats: history, phillies

SCD: Bobby Cox Rookie Card Goes from Common Box to Hall of Fame

Cox collecting. Who knew?!

But for Bobby Cox, the cards of him as a player are limited. Topps issued one for him in 1969 (#237) after his only full major league season as a Yankee third baseman and then he disappeared from cards until he became manager of the Braves in 1978.

Cox, who debuted in the big leagues at age 26 after being acquired from Atlanta in December of 1967, was basically was a one-season wonder for the Yankees who used him as a starter in 1968 and then replaced him with Bobby Murcer in 1969 and later with Jerry Kenney. Cox suffered from knee ailments on a regular basis.  He would finish out the 1969 season as a Yankee and would end his professional career shortly thereafter.

Not every player’s cards take big price jumps when they’re elected to the Hall of Fame, but Cox’s election definitely helped the value of his ’69 Topps card, which went from a common not that long ago to a Hall of Famer. NM/MT graded examples have been bringing $55-65 with high quality ungraded examples not far behind.

Cox didn’t have a 1970 card, although there certainly could be one if Topps had wanted to print one, thus the only card issued during Cox’ career showing him as a big league player is a 1969 Topps Card (#237).

Not only is this card the only one to feature Cox in a major league uniform during his playing career it is also a bit of a challenge to find in high grade.

However, if you want a really difficult card of Cox during his playing career, go search for his 1967 Topps Venezuela card in the lowest numbers. These cards are really difficult to come by and some cards in that series are believed to have fewer than ten copies extant.

Cox, of course, is in the Hall because of his managerial success.  He’s fourth on the all-time wins list and a four-time manager of the year whose number 6 has been retired by the Braves.  It’s probably not something he envisioned 45 years ago when he saw himself on a baseball card for the first time.

Repoz Posted: April 19, 2014 at 07:11 AM | 10 comment(s)
  Beats: braves, history, yankees

OAG: A Conversation With Baseball Legend Johnny Bench

The one where Dennis Menke becomes Dennis Mickey.

BL: Johnny, you’re working with the Topps baseball card company. Do you remember receiving your first card after you reached the majors?

JB: Surely you jest. Of course I do, my goodness gracious. That’s what made you a major leaguer. So I loved it. I thought it was the greatest thing ever. Now I say “Look at me.” You could carry ‘em around, “Here, have my card.”

BL: In the 1970s the Reds went to the World Series four times, winning twice, and went to another two National League Championship Series. Your first full season with the team was 1968. How quickly did you realize you were part of an extraordinary team?

JB: Well, in 1970 we started off the year 70-30. In our era, I’m playing with Tony Perez in ’68, Pete Rose, Tommy Helms, Vada Pinson. And we were close. We were really close. It just seemed like we needed one more thing to make it happen. In 1970 we started off with Lee May hitting and we were just dominating.

We had teams say, “Why don’t we just give it to them now?” And then we were 32-30, and yet here we were 32-30 to end the year and we won 102 games. I mean, it was just phenomenal. And then when we failed a little bit in ’71 the trade was made for Joe Morgan for Cesar Geronimo for Jack Billingham. Dennis Mickey came over and Ed Armbrister. And that’s when we really got it. We had a swagger. That’s when Joe had a chip on his shoulder and Pete Rose was Pete Rose. And we had a Gold Glove center fielder and Gold Glove shortstop in David Concepcion. We had Ken Griffey. I mean we had other teams come out to watch us take batting practice. They’d watch us take batting practice. It was that kind of ball club.

Repoz Posted: April 19, 2014 at 07:03 AM | 3 comment(s)
  Beats: history, reds

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Secret Service Threatened to Kill Mr. Met

DUCKING MASS?

Mr. Met, the mascot for baseball’s saddest franchise, received a stern warning from the Secret Service in 1997, when President Clinton visited Shea Stadium: “Approach the president, and we go for the kill shot.”

Former Mr. Met AJ Mass recounted the death threat in his new book, Yes, It’s Hot in Here: Adventures in the Weird, Woolly World of Sports Mascots.....

“We have snipers all around the stadium, just in case something were to happen. Like I said, do whatever it is you normally do. But approach the President, and we go for the kill shot. Are we clear?” the agent reportedly said, while looking into Mr. Met’s “very soul with his blank, unblinking stare.”

The agent then repeated himself. “Approach the president, and we go for the kill shot,” the agent told Mass. “ARE–WE–CLEAR?”

Mass wrote that agents first grew suspicious when he failed to get Mr. Met’s giant head through security without setting off the metal detectors.

The District Attorney Posted: April 18, 2014 at 08:16 PM | 3 comment(s)
  Beats: history, mascots, mets

RB: Carlos Beltran: more of a center fielder than Mickey Mantle, Ty Cobb or Duke Snider. So what?

Well, a-beat the drum and hold the phone call from Jack O’Connell.

Brain Kenny led a panel discussion on MLB Network yesterday about whether Carlos Beltran has a shot at the Hall of Fame.  The consensus was yes.  My immediate reaction was that Beltran was benefiting from having his hitting compared to center fielders, that if he were compared to right fielders like Hank Aaron then Beltran would have more difficulty.

While Beltran have may a few years to go, right now he is included among players who played at least 75% of their games in center.  Review the two lists above.  The number of center fielders shrinks from 25 to 15 when the criteria changes from 50% to 75%.

Who are dropped?

Mickey Mantle
Ty Cobb
Duke Snider
Ellis Burks
Cesar Cedeno
Torii Hunter
Vada Pinson
Max Carey
Johnny Damon
Willie McGee

Wow.  Mickey Mantle, Ty Cobb, Duke Snider.  Mantle and Cobb don’t need the extra credit of playing center field to be considered all time great players.  It turns out that Aaron did not play 75% of his games in right.  Among right fielders using the 50% criteria, Snider would have the same ranking OPS+: number six.  Babe Ruth is not included because he split his outfield games between right and left.

Carlos Beltran ranked 13 out of 25 on the first center field list and 9 of 15 on the second list.  For some perspective Bernie Williams ranked 11 and 7.  Jim Edmonds missed the 2,000 hit cut with 1,949; he hit 393 homers and had OPS+ 132.  That would have ranked Edmonds 9 and 6, above both Beltran and Williams.  Among those three I would pick Edmonds number one, Williams three.  Bernie was not nearly as good a fielder and Betran was a great base stealer and outstanding tournament hitter.

...What if Kaline, Aaron, Bonds, Clemente, and Henderson had played center for at least half their careers?  How much more value would they seem to have had?

And what if Beltran, Williams and Edmonds had played corner outfield positions instead of center?  Would there be any serious discussion of them as Hall of Fame players, especially Williams who was erratic in center and had a weak arm?  In the corners they’d be mixed in with the big boppers: Ruth, Williams, Bonds, Musial, Aaron.  Stolen bases and flashy fielding would add only so much.

Repoz Posted: April 18, 2014 at 09:58 AM | 44 comment(s)
  Beats: history, hof

Primer Dugout (and link of the day) 4-18-2014

El Paso Herald, April 18, 1914:

The worst luck in the world follows the sight of a cross eyed person, according to the ball players. However this “jinx” may be broken by spitting in your hat immediately. In procuring bat boys to carry the clubs from the home plate back to the bench and kepe them neatly piled in order, baseball managers, as a rule pick out the worst looking youth to be found. He is retained as long as things go well, but when the time arrives that the team hits a slump another homely boy is taken on.

Slumpbusting, 1914-style.

Dan Lee prefers good shortstops to great paintings Posted: April 18, 2014 at 08:54 AM | 29 comment(s)
  Beats: dugout, history

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Primer Dugout (and link of the day) 4-17-2014

Hugh Fullerton via Toledo News-Bee, April 17, 1914:

Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the man who soaked Standard Oil $29,000,000 for violating the balk rule, has been named to decide the most important part of the baseball war.

Whether or not they know it, Judge Landis is the most eminently qualified man in the world to decide any question that may arise in the damage suit that has been brought by the Philadelphia National league team against the Federal league leaders.

Fortunately for the question of prejudice being raised against him, Judge Landis never has declared himself as to the Federal league, and he is both an American and a National league fan.

Oh, sure, totally. Landis can’t possibly be prejudiced in favor of the existing major leagues because…he’s a fan of the existing major leagues? I guess? Right?


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Paine: Advanced Stats Love Jackie Robinson

Only four position players in MLB history — Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner and Lou Gehrig — had more WAR between the ages of 29 and 34. Numbers like that are why, despite Robinson’s short career, James ranked Robinson as the fourth-best second baseman ever in “New Historical Baseball Abstract.”

So much for sabermetrics underappreciating Robinson’s skills.

WAR can measure Robinson’s terrifying impact on the basepaths (he generated 31 more runs than an average player). WAR also takes into account his defensive value — total zone data estimates that Robinson saved 81 more runs than an average defender (primarily at second base, but with a little third base, first base and outfield mixed in). According to defensive WAR, Robinson saved the Brooklyn Dodgers 10 wins with his defense, combining his contributions relative to position and the importance of those positions in the overall structure of the defense.

Most importantly, though, WAR accounts for the fact that Robinson was 261 runs better than average with his bat. Because of the highlight-reel baserunning plays, people often forget that Robinson was also an incredible hitter. He topped a .295 batting average eight times, winning the NL batting crown in 1949 with a .342 average. He also had the majors’ seventh-highest on-base percentage during the course of his career (1947-56), drawing a walk on 12.8 percent of his plate appearances in addition to his outstanding ability to hit for average. And his isolated power was 19 points better than the league average, so Robinson had some pop (even if his slugging percentage was driven in part by 54 career triples).

In sum, Robinson was an all-around sabermetric star. There isn’t an area of the game where the advanced stats don’t consider him very good, if not one of the best ever. The notion that somehow Robinson has lost his luster as we learn more about what makes for winning baseball couldn’t be further from the truth. If anything, sabermetric stats help us appreciate Robinson’s greatness even more.

Thanks to Jake.

Repoz Posted: April 16, 2014 at 08:49 PM | 35 comment(s)
  Beats: history, sabermetrics

Nightengale: Pujols nears 500 home runs…and no one seems to care

Could always ask Brad Lidge.

It’s sure getting harder and harder to impress us these days.

Here we are, on the brink of one of the most magnificent milestones in all of sports, and it seems nobody cares.

Just 25 men in Major League Baseball history have ever hit 500 homers in their lifetime, and here’s Los Angeles Angels first baseman Albert Pujols ready to join them after hitting No. 496 on Monday night.

Yet it’s getting all of the acclaim of an NBA triple-double.

What has happened to us?

“I don’t know what has happened.’’ Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson tells USA TODAY Sports. “It should be front and center. There have almost been 18,000 players who have played our game, and only 25 have hit 500 homers.

“We’ve had a string of power hitters achieve the mark in the past decade, but that shouldn’t diminish how big of a mark it really is.’‘

The trouble, of course, is that the steroid era has dulled our senses and watered down the excitement.

Just four players hit 500 home runs by 1965, but in the last 15 years, 10 new members joined the 500 club.

We’ve seen the likes of Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Manny Ramirez, Rafael Palmeiro and Gary Sheffield all eclipse 500 home runs since 1999, and in some cases, 600 and 700 home runs.

We’ve also seen each of them test positive, or at least be strongly linked to performance-enhancing drugs.

The only players in the last seven years to eclipse 500 home runs with no links to PEDs are Frank Thomas and Jim Thome.

Does anyone remember the moment Thomas hit his 500th homer? How about Thome’s 600th?

Repoz Posted: April 16, 2014 at 10:10 AM | 82 comment(s)
  Beats: angels, history

Verducci: Overuse of young pitchers fueling MLB’s Tommy John surgery problem

On MLB Network, Mitch Williams got so worked up arguing with Verducci over this…they’re still scraping Suavecito pomadesplosion residue off the walls.

What’s going on? Just in recent years, American teenage pitchers significantly have increased the intensity of two of the greatest risk factors for injury: Velocity and volume. And because of the growth in the travel/showcase model, the risks are only growing worse.

First, here is a basic understanding of how the arm works. It is “accepted wisdom” that pitchers break down because the act of throwing a baseball is “an unnatural motion.” That is flat out bunk. The oldest skeleton ever found, the Nariokotome skeleton, which is about 1.5 million years old, showed the biomechanical adaptation for overhand throwing found in the modern Homo sapiens. Man has been throwing spears and rocks and such for eons.

What is “unnatural” is throwing 95 miles an hour under the stress of competition for as much as 10 months out of a year—or more. And that’s where pitching has become more dangerous, especially for teenagers. By throwing harder and more often under stress that requires maximum effort (tournaments and showcases), they are pushing their bodies closer to their physical limit more often with less rest. The intensity is an important distinction, because all throwing is not created equal.

“People like to say you have only so many bullets,” Fleisig said. “That’s not exactly true. One thousand pitches over a month is much different than 1,000 pitches over the course of two years.”

Fleisig likes to use this analogy to capture how the tendons and ligaments of the arm and shoulder are stressed by pitching: Imagine those tendons and ligaments are a rubber band that can withstand 100 pounds of pressure before it breaks. If you apply 90 pounds of pressure nine or 10 times—continually pushing the band to the brink of its limit—small tears begin to form, and the band will break from the stress.

Now apply 50 pounds of pressure to the rubber band. If you do that 10 times—20 times, 50 times, whatever—the band never breaks. That’s because no tears form. It’s the intensity of pitching that matters, not pitching itself. And the American amateur market keeps raising that intensity.

Repoz Posted: April 16, 2014 at 08:44 AM | 44 comment(s)
  Beats: history

Minuteman News Center: Giandurco: This means WAR

If we don’t end WAR, WAR will end us! (trips over imported blunderbuss stand)

I have frequently argued how economic statistics do not always give an accurate appraisal of the current climate. The same happens in sports, at times. I’d like to demonstrate why a currently voguish baseball statistic is vastly misleading, in the hopes of engendering healthy skepticism in fields other than sports.

The statistic called “Wins Above Replacement,” or WAR, is considered the best all-around rating methodology for everyday players (as opposed to pitchers). It supposedly shows how many wins a player adds or subtracts from his team, compared to just an average player at his position. I would like to use several well-known position players and their WAR statistics to evaluate this rating system.

Yogi Berra is, bar none, the winningest baseball player in history. He played 17 seasons, and the Yankees won 14 pennants and 10 World Series. His manager, Casey Stengel, called him his manager on the field. His position, catcher, is critical, touching the ball on every pitch. He won three MVP awards and made 15 All-Star teams. In his magisterial biography, journalist Allan Barra (no relation) surmises that Berra may have been the greatest catcher of all time, but was at least in the top 4. He was named to the All-Century team as the American League catcher.

According to WAR, Berra is the 97th best player of all time. 97th! By comparison, Jeff Bagwell is rated 35th. Bagwell played 15 seasons, winning one pennant and no World Series. He made four All-Star games and won one MVP. But he is 62 places better than Berra, the winningest player of all time, who played a much more crucial position. Since the entire WAR concept is based on winning, how could a player who contributed to so much more winning be rated so much lower? No offense to Bagwell, who I liked, but does anyone believe he is more valuable than Berra?

...I can go on. Take Carl Yasztremski, ranked 28. While a Yankee fan, I really admired Yaz as a kid. He was great. But his Sox never won a World Series, and he had a career average line of .285, 22 HR, 90 RBI, and 89 runs scored. There is simply no comparing the two men’s achievements, yet Yaz is ranked five spots higher than DiMaggio.

I think this brief overview shows that WAR is not rational, and also that all of us need to be skeptical when “experts” throw around statistics, especially when based on new and untested metrics. Often, such stats turn out to be meaningless in the real world. For example, we have finally regained all the jobs lost since 2007, but most of the jobs created have been low-wage, meaning that income inequality has gotten worse, not better, ever since the people who talk a lot about “income inequality” took over Washington

Repoz Posted: April 16, 2014 at 08:21 AM | 106 comment(s)
  Beats: history, sabermetrics

Primer Dugout (and link of the day) 4-16-2014

Toledo News-Bee, April 16, 1914:

One of [Toledo manager] Topsy Hartsel’s recruits, “Walter Clarkson,” almost put something over on the Mud Hen manager, before the boss started to get wise to his scheme.
...
Shortly after Topsy was appointed manager of the team he received a message from a pitcher, who said his name was Walter Clarkson and that he used to captain Harvard and play with the Yankees. Hartsel, who met Clarkson once with the Yanks, immediately signed him.

When he reported, Hartsel remarked on his changed appearance. Of late Topsy and other players quizzed Clarkson on his past baseball experience. His answers were so confusing that they became suspicious.
...
On Thursday the leader received information that the real Walter Clarkson was in Massachusetts, and had been there for the past month.

He would have gotten away with it too, if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids.

Walter Clarkson, by the way, was Dad Clarkson’s brother. I guess that makes him Uncle Clarkson.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Primer Dugout (and link of the day) 4-15-2014

Pittsburgh Gazette Times, April 15, 1914:

A Brooklyn magistrate paroled “Jake” Daubert of the Brooklyn National League club in the Coney Island Police Court [yesterday], so that his team might not be deprived of the services of its captain and first baseman on the opening day of the championship season.

Daubert was in court on a summons to explain why he violated the Sunday law relating to baseball…The magistrate told Daubert he could play with the Brooklyns against Boston [yesterday], but to be in court again [today].

The Dodgers didn’t play on April 15-16, 1914, so there was plenty of time to scold Daubert. Jake took advantage of the adjournment to go 2-for-3 with a triple and two runs scored in a 8-2 Opening Day win over the eventual World Champion Braves.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Primer Dugout (and link of the day) 4-14-2014

100 years ago yesterday, the Federal League held its first game as a “major league”.

Washington Times, April 14, 1914:

That the Federal League is going to make good in Baltimore and awaken those old feverish days of the Hanlon era was distinctly shown when the invaders got down to business yesterday. The opening game of the Feds drew 27,692 fans to the new park, and, to make everybody happy, Baltimore defeated Buffalo 3 to 2.
...
“Baltimore has done itself proud,” said [Federal League] President James A. Gilmore, “in rallying to the standard to the Federal League. We shall do all in our power to bring league baseball to this city.”

They only lasted two years, but Gilmore wasn’t lying. They really did all in their power to give Baltimore a major league ballclub.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Neyer: Kissing the Rolaids Relief Award goodbye

In 2006…. the Rolaids brand was acquired… Johnson & Johnson drastically reduced its distribution of Rolaids-brand products, and the attendant promotion of those products… [Heath] Bell and Rafael Soriano, the winners in 2010, didn’t get their trophies. José Valverde and John Axford, the winners in 2011, didn’t get theirs, either…

The way the Players Association saw it, the Rolaids Relief Man Award was still being promoted on a corporate website in 2010 and ’11, so somebody owed four pitchers their trophies from those seasons….

Tuesday morning in Cleveland, Axford became the last known recipient of the Rolaids Relief Man Award…

While Jim Johnson did receive a bonus for finishing atop the (unofficial) Relief Man standings in 2012, neither he nor NL winner Craig Kimbrel received the hardware, nor are they likely to. The owners of the Rolaids brand didn’t maintain the Relief Man standings that year… Johnson told me last month, “I want my fireman’s helmet.”...

I agree with Jayson Stark: It’s time—actually well past time—for the BBWAA to introduce an award for relief pitchers. I wouldn’t call it the Jerome Holtzman Award, as Jayson would. It’s not a bad suggestion. I just think naming an award after a writer isn’t a great idea. I’ll suggest instead the Mariano Rivera Award for the American League, and the Trevor Hoffman Award for the National League…

POSTSCRIPT: Major League Baseball must have a spy somewhere. Before the above was published but after I submitted it, MLB announced two new awards for relief pitchers, named after ... Rivera and Hoffman.

The District Attorney Posted: April 13, 2014 at 12:52 PM | 15 comment(s)
  Beats: awards, history, relievers, rob neyer, rolaids relief award

Friday, April 11, 2014

Tigers Great Denny McLain: Joe Nathan’s Dead Arm Is ‘Ridiculous,’ ‘Excuse’

The Wicker Sham.

Denny McLain threw for well over 300 innings twice in his MLB career, so it should come as no surprise that the Tigers’ legendary right-hander has no remorse for current closer Joe Nathan and his dead arm.

McLain joined Fred Heumann on Mad Dog in the Morning Thursday and ripped into Nathan.

“What the hell is a dead arm? Can you tell me please?” asked McLain, baseball’s last 30-game winner.

“Get a shot of cortisone, put a little dirt on it, Joe, kick yourself in the ass and get out there. I am tired of excuses. Everybody’s got an excuse in this game today. Get dressed, go play. They’re paying you tens of millions of dollars to play the game and you want to come up with a dead arm?”

...McLain called Nathan’s dead arm “ridiculous.”

“Let’s step up, let’s be a man, let’s retire from the game because our arm is tired and let’s find another guy who can pitch, if your arm is dead,” he said. “That’d be the right thing to do, wouldn’t it? Just walk away from the game, leave $30 million on the table and go home? Wouldn’t that be the right thing to do if you can’t help us?”

Repoz Posted: April 11, 2014 at 03:42 PM | 53 comment(s)
  Beats: history

Primer Dugout (and link of the day) 4-11-2014

Milwaukee Sentinel, April 11, 1914:

The old reserve clause in the contracts of organized baseball players was held to be invalid and unenforceable in a decision handed down on Friday by Federal Judge Clarence W. Sessions denying the application of the Chicago Federal league club for an injunction to restrain Catcher William Killifer [sic] from playing with the Philadelphia National league club.

Contracts of such nature were held by Judge Sessions to be “lacking in the necessary qualities of definiteness, certainty and mutuality.”
...
Judge Sessions denied the application because he said the plaintiff knew Killifer was under a moral, if not legal, obligation to play with the Philadelphia club when it induced him to repudiate his obligation by offering him a longer term of employment and much larger compensation.

IANAL, but it appears that Sessions ruled that the reserve clause that tied Killifer the Phillies was invalid, but should be enforced anyway because the Federal League was a bunch of jerks.


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